Fiji is where it all started for me. It was my spiritual birthplace. It was where I discovered my calling in life; to pack my bags, get on a plane, and find out what more there was on this earth.
My first trip to Fiji was almost 20 years ago, if memory serves… I’ve been back another six times since that first one, and I’m sure I’ve still got a few more visits left in me. To give you a little background and perspective on why this little collection of islands is so special to me, let me give you a little history (I’ll try to keep it brief).
I come from a close, typically tight-knit, fairly traditional Italian family. My two sisters and I were raised not only by mum and dad, but also by our grandparents, aunts and uncles. As is common in a lot of typical Italian families, mum was the homemaker, the constant carer of us girls. She was a doctor, hairdresser, taxi driver, dressmaker, chef, personal assistant, tutor, disciplinarian, friend, and everything else that was required of her. Dad ran (still does) the family business. He worked long hours, hard hours, to ensure his girls had everything they could ever want and need, including family holidays. How my parents managed to raise us on a single income, send us to good, private schools, and still manage to take us on holidays is so utterly beyond my comprehension, and something I’ll never be able to thank them enough for.
We travelled to Fiji as a family five times. Yes, we were spoilt and stayed at lovely resorts. But we were also privy to the real Fiji, the dirty, third-world, kinda scary Fiji that no one in their right mind would ever put on a post card.
The memory that stands out most of this real Fiji was when we one day left the comfy confines of the resort, and travelled to the mainland. Dad needed to meet a business associate for a quick meeting while we were there, and mum thought we were better all going together, safety in numbers and what not. My memory was being in a busy market place, piling into a taxi – dad up front and us four girl crammed into the back seat. Anyway, what I remember was a Fijian man opening the back door of the taxi, and trying to get in, on top of us. Mum screamed, I guess she was scared maybe he was going to try to take one of us out.. we were pretty small then, it wouldn’t have been too hard. I remember him being a scraggly looking guy, he’d obviously lived a hard life and it wasn’t getting any better today. I remember feeling scared, but also feeling sorry for him. And I remember thinking, wondering, how someone could have descended into a life like that…
We made friends in Fiji, lots of them, from our frequent visits. We had wonderful experiences being invited back to see their families in their villages, seeing how they really lived – it was fantastic! It was an experience every child should have, seeing how people less fortunate than themselves live, and how they are happy all the same. That’s another thing that has always stayed with me; these people who live in shacks with more family members than can really comfortably fit, in raggy old clothes and usually no shoes, with only just enough to eat, and they were so much happier than we were!
While I’ve since developed a serious case of wanderlust, a desire to travel and see everything, I’ll always love Fiji, the place where I learnt to really love the new experiences. And while I always want to see something new and tick something else off the list, returning to Fiji will always be a welcome trip, because it’s like returning home for me… my spiritual home : )